Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Curious Case of Architectural Alignment at Whithorn

Anastasia Moskvina – PhD History of Art, University of East Anglia

The monasterium at Whithorn was probably established in the late 5th- early 6th century. The first phase of the evolution of the monasterium – from c. 550 to c. 730 – was characterised by a steady development of a settlement with a double curvilinear layout. The settlement was laid out generally following Irish practice. A stone church in the centre of the monasterium was in existence in the beginning of the 6th century (See Hill 1997 for full excavation report).

Around 700, a curious straight line of features, including posts, graves, stones and slabs, appeared on the site of the cemetery to the south of the church. It may have been designed to mark a symbolic boundary between a group of shrines and a graveyard to the north and an area of unused ground to the south. This line survived the radical transformation of the site in c. 730 and was joined by a parallel row of aligned post-holes in the subsequent period (Hill 1997, pp. 110, 12, figs. 3.30, 3.31). 

Fig.1. Schematic plan of excavated cemetery at Whithorn, c. 700. Author’s drawing after Hill 1997.

The reconstruction of the monasterium, which started in c. 730, continued until the 760s or 770s. Among other alterations, a sequence of three aligned (i.e. arranged in line on the same axis) buildings - two timber oratories and a stone-founded burial enclosure – were built over the site of the shrines and the cemetery. The axes of the oratories followed the socket line of an earlier shrine. To the south of this enclosure, there appeared a range of axially-aligned timber buildings (Hill 1997, pp. 103, 176, figs. 2.9, 3.29, 4.5). Around 800, the two oratories were united into a timber church, while the enclosure was rebuilt into a burial chapel. The two retained the same axial alignment (Hill 1997, pp. 42-43, figs. 2.10, 2.13). 

Fig.2. Schematic plan of monasterium at Whithorn, c. 700. Author’s drawing after Hill 1997. a - putative principal church; b - range of aligned oratories and a burial enclosure; c – range of aligned halls; line of aligned posts and stones shown in fig.1 runs between b and c

Notably, this period of rebuilding coincides with the beginning of Northumbrian domination in Galloway (Hill 1997, p. 18). Bede records that a Northumbrian bishopric was established at Whithorn by 731, attesting to a Northumbrian expansion into Galloway and to rising political aspirations of the Northumbrian church (HE V.23). Archaeological evidence suggests that the Northumbrians may have gained control over Whithorn even earlier - towards the end of 7th c. (Hill 1997, pp. 17, 37). Thus, alignment at Whithorn seems to follow the arrival of the Northumbrians and is not recorded before, which invites to look for the origin of this phenomenon in Northumbria.

At the royal vill of Northumbrian kings at Yeavering, where linearity was a constant and prominent feature, the most distinctive case of alignment is dated to the height of Yeavering’s development under King Edwin (616-633) and constitutes a sequence of structures, including a prehistoric barrow, halls, graves and free-standing posts (See Hope-Taylor 1977 for full excavation report). At the monasteries in Jarrow and possibly Wearmouth, pairs of churches are precisely aligned on the same axis. At Jarrow, two monastic buildings (A and B) to the south of churches also form a straight line (See Cramp 2005 for full excavation report). Similarly, at Hexham a pair of buildings are precisely aligned: the church dedicated to St. Andrew, with a crypt underneath its east end, and a small apsidal structure immediately to the east (See Cambridge & Williams 1995). Another potential, although debatable, instance of architectural alignment is found at Lindisfarne (For information, see O’Sullivan & Young 1995; for reconstruction and argument towards alignment, see Blair 1991).

All these sites, through their royal and elite patronage, seem to have been associated with power and political control. In addition, the architecture and layout of these sites could have been designed to make other symbolic statements of domination. Thus, the group at Hexham, built immediately after the pro-Roman Council of Whitby, is thought to have evoked associations with Rome, with its typically Roman crypt and Apostolic dedication (Bailey 1976; Fernie 198, p. 61; Gilbert 1974; Taylor & Taylor 1965). Wearmouth and Jarrow, in the light of earlier unsettled boundary disputes between Deira and Bernicia precisely in this area (as the disputes were ongoing even in the united Northumbria), are likely to have been making a territorial claim initiated by Kind Ecgfrith of Deiran descent (Cramp 2005, pp. 28, 350). Lindisfarne was established almost immediately after King Oswald’s victory over Cædwalla of Gwynedd and his subsequent ascension to the Northumbrian throne (HE III.1,3). Finally, the development of Yeavering should be seen in the overall context of the gradual establishment and acceptance of Anglo-Saxon lordship, observed both locally and regionally.

This means that 7th-century Northumbria was a place of ideological tensions and shifting powers. In a sense, this unsettled political and cultural climate could have made Northumbria a ground for architectural experiments, with the kings and the elite to be seen urgently searching for the means of proclaiming their authority. As a result, the visual narrative of alignment, selected to convey the message of power and domination, was widely accepted and seems to have been firmly established in Northumbria by c. 700, when it started to spread into the neighbouring regions. It is in this context that alignment at Whithorn, not observed before c. 700, should be considered. It seems that alignment at Whithorn in its essence is no different from that in other places across Northumbria: it could have been a strategy adopted to cope with anxieties over leadership and thus a predominantly political and ideological, rather than merely architectural, feature.

Works Cited:

Bailey, R.N. (1976) The Anglo-Saxon Church at Hexham. Archaeologia Aeliana. 5 (4). p. 47-68.

Bede (1969) The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, eds. Judith McClure and Roger Collins. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Blair, J. (1991) The Early Churches at Lindisfarne. Archaeologia Aeliana. 5 (19). p. 47-53.

Cambridge, E. & A. Williams. (1995) Hexham Abbey: a Review of Recent Work and its Implications. Archaeologia Aeliana. 5 (23). p. 51-138.

Cramp, R. (2005) Wearmouth and Jarrow Monastic Sites. 2 vols. Swindon: English Heritage.

Fernie, E. (1983) Architecture of the Anglo-Saxons. London: BT Batsford.

Gilbert, E. (1974) Saint Wilfrid’s Church at Hexham, In: Kirby, D.P. (ed.) Saint Wilfrid at HexhamBoston: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.

Hill, P. (1997) Whithorn and St Ninian: The Excavation of a Monastic Town, 1984-1991. Stroud: Sutton Publishing Limited.

Hope-Taylor, B. (1977) Yeavering: an Anglo-British Centre of Early Northumbria. London: H.M.S.O.

O’Sullivan, D. & R. Young. (1995) Lindisfarne: Holy Island. London: BT Batsford

Taylor, H.M. & Taylor, J. (1965-1978) Anglo-Saxon Architecture, 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

LAMPS Conference 2016 Call for Papers


Gardens and Enclosures
Friday, 6 May 2016

The Second Annual Conference of the Late Antique and Medieval Postgraduate Society at the University of Edinburgh

The Late Antique and Medieval Postgraduate Society (LAMPS) at the University of Edinburgh is hosting a one-day conference on the theme of Gardens and Enclosures within the Late Antique to Early Modern period.  This conference theme is intended to correlate with and promote interest in a new medieval pigment garden project conducted by LAMPS.  In association with the Edinburgh College of Art and Dr. Heather Pulliam, LAMPS is very enthusiastic about the cultivation of this garden and its ability to further promote the importance of interdisciplinary connections in and outside of the University of Edinburgh.

Supported by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, LAMPS is now introducing a discussion on the theme of Gardens and Enclosures to encompass a wider audience by providing a forum for postgraduate and early career scholars (defined as scholars who have been working in their field for five years or less), to present their research. Submissions for abstracts or posters on the theme of Gardens and Enclosures may include but are certainly not limited to:

  • Gardens and green spaces, including illuminations
  • Flora and fauna
  • Religious spaces and ideas, including the concept of Paradise and other oases
  • Colours and pigments, codicology   
  • Planting, fertilization, and cultivation (in terms of agriculture or more abstract concepts, such as ideas or beliefs)
  • Archaeological digs in domestic spaces
  • Cemeteries or other burial enclosures
  • Liminal spaces and gender

Early career scholars and postgraduate students are invited to submit abstracts of up to 200 words to lampsedinburgh@gmail.com by Friday, 19 February 2016.  Confirmations of acceptance will be sent by Friday, 18 March 2016.

We also welcome proposals for A2 posters from any relevant department, including but not limited to Archaeology, History, Classics, History of Art, Literature, Language Studies, and Islamic Studies.  Posters will be required to relate to our topic of Gardens and Enclosures. Poster submissions are also open to honours undergraduates.



Friday, 4 December 2015

“And ϸurᴣ wyles of wymmen be wonen to sorᴣe”: Antifeminism and Gawain’s Problematic Masculinity in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Danielle Howarth – PhD Medieval Studies

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has long been recognised as a text that plays with the boundaries between genders, as Gawain’s gender identity is unstable. He moves from masculine, to feminine, to masculine again, as he moves from Camelot to Hautdesert and back. But how are these gender identities enacted, and why? I will argue that the answer lies in Gawain’s infamous anti-feminist diatribe.

As he prepares to leave Arthur’s court Gawain’s masculinity is emphasised by a conventional arming scene, rich in euphemism: his armour “coyntlych closed / His thik ϸrawen ϸyᴣez” (Sir Gawain, ll. 578-579). Also conventional are the tests Gawain faces while travelling: “sumwhyle wyth wormez he werrez, and with wolues als, / Sumwhyle wyth wodwos ... wyth bullez and berez, and borez ... And etaynez” (720-723).

However, the process of Gawain’s feminisation begins immediately upon his arrival at Hautdesert, when Bertilak’s servants divest him of the markers of his masculine identity. First, “his bronde and his blasoun boϸe ϸay token” (828) and soon after he is “dispoyled ... / Ϸe burn of his bruny and of his bryᴣt wedez” (860-861). Hautdesert literally undresses and redresses Gawain, as the servants bring him new clothes “for to charge, and to chaunge” (864), marking the shift in Gawain’s gender identity.

Subsequently, Gawain is feminised more obviously. In a reversal of gender roles, the Lady actively pursues Gawain sexually, always initiating erotic activity: “Ho comes nerre with ϸat, and cachez hym in armez, / Loutez luflych adoun and ϸe leude kyssez” (1305-1306, also see 1306, 1505, 1555, 1758, 1796, 1869). She also threatens to incapacitate him physically: “I schal bynde yow in your bedde” (1211). Here, the Lady also tells Gawain “Now ar ᴣe tan” (1210). The Lady “takes” Gawain by convincing him to accept the green girdle and conceal it from Bertilak (1829-1863), violating the terms of the exchange agreement they made together. During the final temptation scene, the Lady and Gawain negotiate over the girdle (1798-1863), linking this chivalric, homosocial failure to his feminisation: “rather than trafficking in women, he has traffic with them” (Fisher 1989, p. 85).

Image One: Bertilak’s Lady and Gawain, from the only extant manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x., f. 125r, http://contentdm.ucalgary.ca/cdm/singleitem/collection/gawain/id/357/rec/177).

Gawain is simultaneously “taken” by Bertilak, who reveals that he “sende [the Lady] to asay [Gawain]” (2362) and wounds Gawain as punishment for his failure to honour their agreement. Boyd argues that this wound is the ultimate symbol of Gawain’s feminisation, as it is a “gash-like wound from which blood flows,” and Gawain has become the passive recipient of a “blow” from Bertilak’s “axe” (1998, p.90; also see Heng 1991, pp. 505-506). The third temptation scene foreshadows these homosexual implications, as Gawain worries that “he schulde make synne” (1774) by engaging in intercourse with Bertilak’s Lady. Ostensibly referring to the sin of adultery, this line could also reference sodomy, as in gaining a “receptacle for sexual activity,” Gawain would also have to provide Bertilak with one (Boyd 1998, p. 79; also see Dinshaw 1994, p. 206), Thus, Gawain is feminised by both Bertilak and his Lady.

The final level of Gawain’s feminisation involves Morgan, who is denied her power even as it is revealed. The revelation that Morgan sent Bertilak “to assay [Gawain’s] surquidré” (2456) again renders Gawain passive in opposition to female agency, here with the added dimension that Morgan has used a man to enact this agency. However, Gawain is able to dismiss Bertilak’s insistence that he “com to ϸyn aunt” (2467): “he nikked hym naye, he nolde bi no wayes” (2471). Here, alliteration emphasises that Gawain is no longer at Morgan’s mercy; her mysterious power is no longer operational, and she does not appear in the text again.

Image Two: The Green Knight at Arthur’s court, the first stage of Morgan’s plot (British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x., f. 90v, http://contentdm.ucalgary.ca/cdm/singleitem/collection/gawain/id/289/rec/108)

But why is Gawain suddenly able to dismiss Morgan, whose machinations have previously driven the narrative? Significantly, this dismissal occurs immediately after Gawain’s so-called antifeminist diatribe. In this diatribe, Gawain reacts to the betrayal of Bertilak’s Lady by casting her as stereotypically and negatively feminine: “ϸat ϸus hor knyᴣt wyth hor kest han koyntly bigyled” (2413). He then extends this stereotypical antifeminist response to all femininity, mentioning Adam, Solomon, Samson and David (2416-2419) and stating “Bot hit is no ferly ϸaᴣ a fole madde, / And ϸurᴣ wyles of wymmen be wonen to sorᴣe” (2414-2415).
This diatribe is commonly thought to be a tactic through which Gawain distances himself from Morgan and the Lady. However, scholars have overlooked the fact that Gawain’s own femininity, linked to the Lady and Morgan and just as important as their femininity, is also denounced by his diatribe. It is crucial that this diatribe is an act of speech that subjugates the feminine to a negative stereotype, returning Gawain to a normatively masculine position of dominance. Subsequently, he is no longer the passive recipient of the Lady’s advances, Bertilak’s “blows,” or Morgan’s plots, but an active, masculine subjugator of the feminine. Gawain can therefore dismiss Morgan, part from Bertilak as his equal, and journey back to Arthur’s court, having adventures along the way that neatly parallel his conventional, masculine journey to Hautdesert.

Subsequently, the girdle and Gawain’s wound are transformed into symbols of subjugated femininity. Gawain did fail, and he cannot escape that, as is symbolised by the fact that the wound he received from Bertilak leaves a scar. Similarly, Gawain cannot simply cast the girdle away. However, he can utilise its feminine connotations in a new way, to blame his femininity for his failure, and re-construct his masculinity through the suppression of the feminine. After his diatribe, Gawain redefines the girdle as a “syngne of [his] surfet” (2433). Heng rightly argues that he can consequently “take up the girdle again … as a thing he sees as a-part from him” (1991, p. 507), though she does not recognise the implications of this in terms of Gawain’s own femininity. Arthur’s court furthers this suppression of the feminine, laughing away Gawain’s discomfort over his scar (2513-2514), and converting the girdle into a public symbol of masculine honour: “he honoured ϸat hit hade euermore after” (2520).
Patriarchal discourses are triumphant: Gawain has overcome his feminisation and his failure, through antifeminism that denounced and subjugated all femininity. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight therefore renders Gawain’s own gender fluid in order to combat male anxiety over the power of the feminine, which is suppressed even within Gawain himself. 

Works Cited

Boyd, David L. “Sodomy, Misogyny, and Displacement: Occluding Queer Desire in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” Arthuriana 8.2 (1998): 77-113.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. “A Kiss is Just A Kiss: Heterosexuality and Its Consolations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Diacritics: A Review of Contemporary Criticism 24.2 (1994): 205-226.

Fisher, Sheila. “Taken Men and Token Women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Seeking the Woman in Late Medieval and Renaissance Writings: Essays in Feminist Contextual Criticism. Ed. Sheila Fisher and Janet E. Halley. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1989. 71-105.

Heng, Geraldine. “Feminine Knots and the Other Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” PLMA 106.3 (1991): 500-514.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. J.R.R. Tolkein and E.V. Gordon. 2nd ed. Ed. Norman Davis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.